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1 person dead, 3 hospitalized after outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at Portland apartment complex

Multnomah County health officials urged more than 100 residents to temporarily leave their homes after harmful bacteria was found in the building's water supply.

PORTLAND, Ore. — One person died and three other people are in the hospital following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a North Portland apartment complex for seniors.

Multnomah County health officials notified more than 100 residents at Rosemont Court, located at 597 North Dekum Street, of potential concerns about the building’s water system after several residents came down with pneumonia.

Rosemont Court apartments are for people 55 and older, according to the building manager's website.

"I have to get tested right now to see if I have this stuff," said Juanita Watson who has lived in the building for more than a decade. "It's in the water."

Legionella bacteria is found naturally in fresh water, health officials said, but it can cause health problems if it gets into a building’s water supply. Most healthy people exposed to the bacteria do not get sick, but people at increased risk, including the elderly, can get pneumonia by breathing in very small droplets of water with the bacteria.

The Multnomah County Health Department said investigators identified the building’s water supply as the source of the bacteria on Monday afternoon. The department began urging residents to temporarily leave their homes, offering motel rooms, bottled water and meal deliveries.

Twenty people chose to leave Monday night and more residents said they would leave their apartments on Tuesday.

The health department said it would work with building managers to treat the water system.

"When COVID-19 is in the background every public health response, and we saw this with the wildfires, every public health response becomes more complex and more difficult for the people impacted," said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County Health Officer.

People at increased risk for infection include the elderly, smokers, those with chronic diseases and the immunosuppressed. The first symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are usually flu-like, health officials said. Signs of a serious lung infection (pneumonia) include cough and chest pain. 

"The good news is it isn't passed person to person," said Dr. Vines. 

The Portland Water Bureau tweeted Tuesday night it is working with Multnomah County and there is no threat to the water system.

Learn more about Legionnaires’ disease